Survivor of the Arandora Star;
Born: July 13, 1920; Died :October 11, 2013.
Rando Nilo Bertoia, who has died aged 93, was the last Italian survivor of the Arandora Star, the ship that was torpedoed by a German U boat in 1940 with 712 Italian internees aboard. His passing marks the closing of an era. He was one of the last physical manifestation of the sinking; the custodian of the living memory.
He was born in Montereale Valcellina, in the province of Pordenone, Friuli, Italy. Following in the footsteps of the famous terrazzo and mosaic workers, all of whom came from Pordenone, his father, Ermenegildo, emigrated in 1914 having been called to work for the Toffolo family, who were already established in Glasgow.
Rando grew up in Glasgow, attending Abbotsford School and later joined his father, working in terrazzo for Toffolo, later Toffolo Jackson.
When Italy declared war on the allies on June 2, 1940, at 4 am, the following morning both Rando and his father were arrested as enemy aliens, under Churchill's "Collar the Lot" edict. They were taken to Maryhill Barracks and then to Milton Bridge Camp near Edinburgh and from there to the disused Warth Mills, in Lancashire, the collecting point for Italians from all over Britain.
Neither a member of the fascist party nor an activist within the Italian community, Mr Bertoia always remained perplexed by his selection for deportation rather than internment on the Isle of Man, where the supposedly less dangerous characters were destined to spend the war years, including his own father.
Bound for Canada, the Arandora Star set sail from Liverpool on July 1 1940 with 712 Italians aboard. The following morning she was torpedoed northwest of Ireland by a German U boat, and sank with the loss of 446 Italian lives. Of the 266 Italians rescued, 200 were considered fit enough to be transported once again to Liverpool. Mr Bertoia was one of these survivors subsequently despatched on July 10 aboard the Dunera, heading for Australia, via stops at Freetown, Sierra Leone, Takoradi, Ghana and at Cape Town, a voyage of 55 days under the most appalling conditions and harrowing brutality.
Life in the internment camps near both Melbourne and Adelaide was relatively pleasant however, and for the young Rando gave him an opportunity to take classes in Italian, wood-working and drawing. It was during his time imprisoned mostly at Tatura camp, near Melbourne, he indulged his passion for mechanical things and acquired watch making skills.
From 1943, the Italians were able to leave the camps on a daily basis and, in Adelaide, Mr Bertoia found work with a terrazzo firm from his region of Italy. On returning to Glasgow in 1946 aboard the Mauretania, he put the training gained in Australia to good use and, along with his younger, Scottish-born brother, Oriente, opened a watch and jewellery business on Victoria Road in Glasgow. The family ran the business for over half a century, Mr Bertoia still working well into his 80s.
During internment, strong bonds were formed among the Italians and Mr Bertoia made life-long friends with some London Italians, to whom he was known as Berty. He travelled from Glasgow annually to attend the commemorative mass at St Peter's Italian Church in Clerkenwell to mark the sinking of the Arandora Star and to spend time again with his dear friends Luigi Beschizza, Nick Cua, Peter Beschizza, and Gino Guarnieri.
In 1990, on the 50th anniversary of the sinking, these men, amongst a group of around 20 other survivors, including from Scotland, Enrico Casci, Romolo Chiocconi, Alessandro Pacitti, Elio Poli, Mario Dora, and Fortunato Ianetta, were decorated with the Cavaliere al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by President Cossiga of Italy. In the same year they were also invited to the Imperial War Museum in London to recount their oral testimony of their war experiences. It was a moment of recognition and pride both for the men as individuals and for the Italian community as a whole.
Over the last 20 years, general awareness of the Arandora Star incident has grown with an understanding that it was a unique episode in the history of the Second World War. Rando Bertoia's view was always philosophical; he wrote much of this down in a manuscript he entitled Architects of Death, which amply displays that he had no love of Mussolini. But the necessarily internalised pain, hidden deep within the Italian community, took many long years to exorcise. The building of the Arandora Star monument and symbolic Italian Garden at St Andrew's Cathedral in Glasgow, by Archbishop Mario Conti in 2011, has gone a long way to finally laying the memory to rest.
Mr Bertoia was for many years the last Italian survivor of the Arandora Star and he played his part with great dignity, in Scotland, England and in Italy. His own reconciliatory and peaceful nature made him the perfect ambassador. A quiet, gentle man, he was always willing nonetheless to be present at Italian and Scottish events and be interviewed whenever asked.
Rando Bertoia died as he had lived, quietly and with no trouble to anyone. He will be missed by many not least by those who understood and valued his quiet testament to the history of the Italian presence in this country.
He is survived by his wife Giovanna, also from Montereale Valcellina, whom he married in 1958, and his children, Marco and Gilda. There will be a memorial service for Mr Bertoia during the second half of November at St Andrew's Cathedral Glasgow.
Dr Terri Colpi
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